Positive Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a fundamental concept of Operant conditioning, whose main purpose is to strengthen or increase the rate of behavior. Contrary to Punishmentwhich makes use of various stimuli to decrease the rate of behavior, reinforcement helps increase certain behavior. Stimulus that is involved in the process of reinforcement is also called reinforcer.


There are no limitations to what a reinforcer can be. A reinforcer can be food when an organism has been deprived of food, water when it has been deprived of liquid, the opportunity to mate, money, praise, and so on.

Reinforcement can be further classified into Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcementbased on the kind of stimuli used to increase the rate of operant. We are going to discuss Positive Reinforcement in this article.

Definition of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement increases the probability that an operant will occur when reinforcers (positive) are applied. To put it in simpler terms, certain consequences of action results with the increase in probability that the action will repeat again in future. These consequences are called positive reinforcers.

There are no limitations to what positive reinforcers can and cannot be. Both primary and secondary reinforcers can serve as positive reinforcers. Food, water, sex and other similar reinforcers, which are biologically important, are primary reinforcers, whereas things like money, praise and grades fall under the category of secondary reinforcers; all of which can serve as positive reinforcers.

Skinner’s experiment on Operant conditioning can also be taken as a reference to further understand the concept of reinforcements. B.F. Skinner used Skinner box to conduct various experiments on a rat and used various reinforcers to support his theory on operant conditioning.

skinners theory of operant conditioning

On one of the experiment conducted by Skinner, he placed a hungry rat inside the box. The rat was provided with food after it pressed the lever. The response of pressing the lever was seen to be done in a shorter interval for the second, third time and the interval kept on growing shorter. After a while, the rat had gained enough conscience to press the lever immediately every time it grew hungry. The conditioning was then deemed to be complete.

Here, food is the positive reinforcer, which led the rat to press the lever again and again.

Examples of Positive Reinforcement

  • An employee works hard on the job and exceeds his monthly quota, upon which, he is rewarded with a bonus by his company.

happy employee caused by positive reinforcement

  • A student works hard in class and receives A+ grading, upon which, she is praised in front of the whole class.

The examples mentioned above can be easily understood. Here, the bonus offered to the employee, and the A+ grading and the praise received by the student are the positive reinforcers.

Is Positive Reinforcer Effective?

Positive reinforcer has been found to be remarkably effective in most cases. Children are seen to be learning quickly if they receive proper attention or certain reinforcements. Likewise, the procedure can also be applied for teenagers, adults, or old people, of all genders.

But, there are certain factors that come into play when it comes to complete success of the method. Researchers have found out that positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. Also, the procedure tends to have better results when the reinforcer is applied frequently with enthusiasm.

The strength of the connection between the reinforcement and the behavior is another major factor that influences success rate of positive reinforcement. And the connection grows strong when the interval of time between a behavior and the presentation of positive reinforcement is short. Additionally, positive reinforcement tends to have best results when it is applied consistently.